Finding Dory Keeps Swimming Despite “Sequel” Label Weighing It Down

Animation has spoiled me. I experienced Disney Animation’s first renaissance and Pixar’s unmatched introduction to the world as a child. From Beauty and the Beast and Mulan to Toy Story and The Incredibles, I grew up watching films that were just as technologically innovative as they were iconic.

Although it has been years since I have last seen Finding Nemo, I can still recall scenes and recite lines almost perfectly. Colorful, poignant and a visual feast for your eyes, Finding Nemo began Pixar’s trend of making audiences cry within the first few minutes of a film. With its clever humor and memorable characters, it is timeless despite its aging animation.

It is also a film that didn’t need a sequel.

Nonetheless, Finding Dory came and it’s excellent.

Set one year after the events of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory explores Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) backstory after she starts remembering her family. Marlin (Albert Brooks) has to once again travel across oceans as he and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) join Dory on her quest to reunite with her forgotten parents.

Finding Dory reminds us why Dory was a scene-stealer in the original film. None of its gags fall flat and Dory’s antics never grow old. However, what makes Dory a successful protagonist is not her humor. Rather, it is her hidden tragedy. The film explores details about her character that were laughed off when we were first introduced to her back in 2003. The story never shies away from her disability and her struggles to overcome it. In fact, Dory’ transition from entertaining sidekick to fully developed heroine makes her eternal optimism all the more inspiring because her disability becomes the focal point of the film.

Due to its strong writing, Finding Dory does not falter under expectations like other Pixar sequels. The film’s pacing is flawless, with no second wasted nor missing. It also introduces us to new and wonderful characters. With the film’s stellar additions to an already superb cast, it’s no surprise how quick we come to love them. Given how much animation has advanced in the thirteen years since Finding Nemo, the film’s overall look is familiar but necessarily updated.

In other words, it’s gorgeous.

And yet, Finding Dory is not the most beautiful piece of animation you will see at the theater.

Before the screening of any Pixar film, an animated short is played. These shorts are five to ten minutes long and usually tell better stories than feature length films (read: Batman v Superman). Pixar uses these shorts to experiment with new animation techniques and technology. Piper is the animated short that precedes Finding Dory and it is breathtaking. The animation is so staggering that it upstages the main event.

Piper is sadly not Finding Dory’s strongest opponent.

When the very thing that led to your existence is also your greatest adversary, it is strangely poetic. What keeps Finding Dory from reaching Finding Nemo’s quality is Finding Nemo itself. Although it cleverly shifts the focus from the parent to the child, Finding Dory is essentially the same story as Finding Nemo. Both films share emotional beats that occur at parallel points throughout the story. By failing to recapture the originality of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory suffers from the limitations of sequels. Finding Dory also does not offer as epic of an adventure as the one Marlin and Dory go through in Finding Nemo. The first film takes you to the deepest depths of the ocean, while the one that follows only has two locations.

Sequels are not easy. They will always be compared to what came before and rarely surpass it. Finding Dory had the thankless task of following a film that is beloved by generations. Although it lacks its predecessor’s ingenuity, it is a fantastic film that invites us to dive back under the sea.

Finding Dory was released June 17, 2016.